Geriatric Pain: A Growing Epidemic

Pain is increasing among all age groups in the United States, but elderly Americans still experience the highest rates of pain, which make pain management a growing concern for those 65 years of age and older.  Research shows that over half of older adults report pain that is bothersome and affects his/her daily activities.  In this blog, we will   explore geriatric pain in further detail and how your interdisciplinary patient care team can effectively manage it.

Geriatric Pain Factors

There are many factors that affect geriatric pain.  One main factor is the overall living arrangements for a person 65 years of age and older.  People who live in long term care tend to experience pain at a higher degree than their cohorts who live within a community.   A second key factor is medication compliance for a senior with pain. This population on average report that they take their medication “occasionally” during a one-week period.  This sporadic usage occurs for several reasons, which a few are listed below:

  • Under treatment by prescribers,
  • Financial hardship making it difficult for seniors to pay for medications, which often are very costly, and
  • Side effects, making seniors reluctant to take medication regularly. The interdisciplinary pain management team must find out the reason(s) why seniors are not taking their medications and work with them to resolve the issue.

Geriatric pain can lead to many undesirable consequences, often impairing a senior’s quality of life.  It can lead to depression, which increases the risk of suicide along with anxiety and decreased socialization.  Other disturbances one may experience are with sleeping habits, appetite, impaired ambulation, and cognitive impairments, which can result in increased utilization and costs in health care.

The Team Approach to Managing Geriatric Pain

In order to achieve better pain control in the geriatric population, the interdisciplinary team, including the physician and the pharmacist, must work together to prescribe carefully, re-evaluate frequently, and combine treatments.

Many elderly patients under report their pain for several reasons including:

  • They think it is a natural part of aging,
  • They do not want to be perceived as a nuisance,
  • They fear that acknowledging pain will lead to undesirable consequences such as costly and uncomfortable testing or hospitalization, and
  • They fear that they may be placed in a nursing home.

Whatever the reason may be, the team must be aware of the potential under reporting of pain and make every effort to obtain an accurate evaluation.

When assessing pain in this population it is important to explore statements that include words such as achy, sore, or discomfort, which are often used by the elderly.  Once the terms that accurately describe an elderly patient’s pain are determined, they should be used consistently throughout the assessment and reassessment of his/her pain.  It is also imperative that the entire team uses the same consistent language.

Alternatives Pain Treatments

When thinking about ways to treat pain, prescription drugs may come to mind first, but there are many non-pharmacologic ways that should also be considered.  Simple distraction techniques such as listening to music, watching television or listening to a story can lead to an increase in comfort level and a decrease in pain focus.  Relaxation methods such as massage, soft touch, or warm applications have proven to be beneficial in reducing pain, along with sensory stimulation such as pet therapy or cognitive stimulation such as reading, or reminiscing.  There are also many benefits associated with physical activity, even a light exercise program that meets the patient’s needs and abilities, as it not only helps reduce pain, but it also increases a patient’s mental acuity, improves moods, enhances balance and even reduces depression.

We can Help with Treating Geriatric Pain

The 5 Star Consultants team has vast experience in teaching ways to best manage all types of patient pain, including geriatric.  With our training, you can ensure your interdisciplinary team is taking the correct approach when treating elderly patients.  We would love to explore the best training option for your team.  We offer onsite training, live or on-demand webinars and even upcoming conference sessions led by our experienced consultants can help to ensure your team is ready to deal with geriatric pain.  For further information, please contact us today at [email protected] or 866-428-4040.

Southern Web SupportGeriatric Pain: A Growing Epidemic
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